Auction Fundraising and Beyond: The Essential Guide

the essential guide to auction fundraising

Auction fundraisers have become a popular fundraising tool for raising money and awareness for a cause. Additionally, auction fundraisers are a perfect launching pad to easily transition bidders and donors into long term supporters. Auctions draw in the ‘regular’ givers and also attract attention for expanding a new audience. Gala or party event auctions tend be very social and people are apt to bring friends along to join the festivities. Online auctions have no barrier to entry and anyone with access to the fundraiser website can participate. Either way auctions can extend the reach and influence for a fundraising group.

Auctions are a perfect venue to showcase what a cause is really about. The participants in an auction fundraiser are sponsors, donors and bidders. All of which can be amplifiers for the auction and the cause. Sponsors will align with the fundraiser for public awareness of their goodwill and philanthropy efforts. Donors will donate auction items for the good of the cause and for recognition in auction catalog or online donor list. Bidders will pay to attend the event and bid on auction items hoping to get a deal or just because they want to support the cause. Each has a reason to share their part of the story to their unique audience.

Now there is a captive audience – which means it’s storytelling time. Show that past fundraising activities have made a difference. Show with pictures, tell with video how participating in this auction fundraiser will: feed the children, save the animals, fund the research, provide access for services and the list goes on. This type of organic compassion widens the audience of the mission and vision for the charity or group.

To better understand auction fundraising, here are some topics to review:

  1. Auction fundraiser types
  2. How to run an auction fundraiser
  3. Post auction converting bidder, donors, sponsors to long term supporters


Auction Fundraiser Types


Auctions are a great way to engage and be interactive with the current donor and potential future donor population. The purpose of the auction itself is to offer goods, services and opportunities that are bid-up by donors. Items donated at auctions cost zero in terms of financial outlay, so any bids and donations are dollars that immediately help the fundraising efforts. Auction fundraisers lend to sharing and caring. Bidders are energized by the auction offerings and share the news with friends and family increasing the breadth of potential bidders i.e. donors.

There are two types of auction fundraisers:

  • Event based auction fundraiser
  • Online auction fundraiser

An event based auction fundraiser takes place on location with a party, gala or event. The event based fundraiser includes a silent and/or live auction. The event based fundraiser lasts a few, or 3-4 hours. The auction items are up for bid and attendance is required to participate in the bidding process. Typically these events include ticketing, entertainment and may be themed to attract party goers. There is additional work and time commitment required to plan and execute an entire event, however, the payoff can be significant. Raising money and raising awareness in person can create emotional attachment to the fundraising cause.

An online auction fundraiser takes place exclusively online. The benefit of an online auction is the fundraiser can span days rather than hours and that a bidder does not need to be on location to bid. Thus, the number of bidders can be larger and the more bidders there are, the more bids there are and potentially the higher the final bids may be.

There are pros and cons to each type of auction fundraiser. Deciding on which type of fundraiser is best for your group can be determined by two major factors: 1) past attendance at events, 2) amount of volunteer commitment. Auction fundraisers can evolve over time as well, start online move to an event the next year or reverse from an event to online. Surveying the crowd should give an idea of which to pursue.


How to Run an Auction Fundraiser


Three key timeframes to running an auction fundraiser:

  1. Planning & Procurement
  2. Promoting & Marketing
  3. Running & Closing

Executing an auction fundraiser takes team effort, however, the reward can be large and long lasting. Communication and being organized are essential to all things running smoothly. There are plenty of online software programs to choose from. Find one that is budget friendly and has all the features that will make the auction a success. Consider a full featured program to streamline the auction from first donation to last receipt. A comprehensive auction fundraiser program should meet your specific needs: bidding, ticketing, tables, close-out, emails, receipts and comprehensive tracking and reporting.


Planning & Procurement


Planning largely includes event planning, donation procurement, & sponsorship sales.


Overall Planning

Planning the auction fundraiser begins with deciding on the type of auction, location and time. An auction chairperson and a committee of dedicated helpers can make it all happen. Do establish defined roles and tasks and share the responsibilities. Finding volunteers is as simple as asking, keeping volunteers requires some effort. Be sure to match the volunteer with a job they want to do, communicate regularly and thank along the way. Using a streamlined auction program ensures that the auction details and work can be shared and kept organized. Map out the entire auction from start to finish complete with important dates with a timeline and checklist.



Finding auction items requires a procurement letter and some leg work. There are oodles of local and national businesses and services that will readily support fundraisers. A procurement letter should be short and sweet describing the cause and then asking for a donation with details on how to donate and relevant contact information. Online donation requests are quite plentiful, too. Here is a collection of over 500 donation request pages from the Mega-Auction Donation Pinterest board and the Mega-Sports Donation Pinterest board. Have handy the procurement letter, a good email address and a website for the auction or group.



Sponsors for auction fundraiser can help increase revenue multiple times over. Sponsors donate cash (and sometimes goods) in exchange for goodwill and their name being promoted and associated with the cause. Sponsorship objectives should come in both micro and macro scales. The macro goal of the total sponsorship donations collected is to, at a minimum, cover the cost of your event. If your event costs you $20,000, there’s your macro total sponsorship goal. The micro goal is to have the individual item sponsor cover the cost of what they are sponsoring. If your valet service costs you $2,000, that’s the minimum that you should set as your valet sponsorship goal.


Promoting & Marketing


Always be promoting the auction fundraiser. The visibility helps with procurement of donated auction items in addition to driving attendance. A themed fundraiser raises the interest level of an auction fundraiser and can drive more conversation and participation to an event. Use each and every communication channel that the potential bidder or donor audience can be reached. Consider how the group regularly communicates formally and informally.

  • Hard copy flyers, include a QR code
  • Weekly or monthly digital/print newsletter
  • Automated telephone calling system
  • Social media
  • Facebook micro-targeting and advertising, depending on the marketing budget
  • Bulletin boards in local businesses that promote local events (think Starbucks, Panera, local lunch shop, community centers)
  • Community e-bulletin boards, blogs, emails


Running & Closing


Running the actual auction smoothly is the (almost) final hurrah. When the auction is ready to go public the team figuratively flips the switch FROM procurement TO selling and bidding.

Here is a basic to-do list:

  • Sell event tickets or raffle tickets
  • Promote online catalog
  • Bidder registration
  • Online auction

Auction Team Duties

  • Print bid sheets and a display page are furnished to advertise each item
  • Clearly mark closing times for category or individual items
  • Emcee announces last chance to bid on silent categories
  • Close each category in a pre-determined fashion
  • Record highest bidder information
  • Sell raffle tickets and pull raffle ticket winners
  • Conduct the live auction
  • Collect final payments from bidders
  • Provide receipts

Event Close-Out Duties

  • Manage catering and overall timeline of the event
  • Party set-up & break-down
  • Pay all vendors and gratuities
  • Celebrate the volunteers, donors and bidders


Post Auction: Converting Bidders & Sponsors to Long Term Supporters


Auctions are a fitting fundraising vehicle for sharing the story for the cause. The audience is captive and feels connected at that exact moment in time. Appreciate all sponsors and bidders for not only the dollars spent but also for their time. Go ahead at this moment and ask to continue the relationship with follow-up reports and updates on how the money is being spent- you will never get a no on this. Use this exchange to build a foundational relationship for future partnering.

Personal outreach, calls, emails and social media are all viable ways to nurture the bonds. When the time just isn’t right to ask for money, is most likely right to ask for sharing of the message and small volunteering. Converting bidders into ‘members’ takes strategy and effort yet worth the time. Using a program to track the interactions to manage members to implement the strategy is the smart way to accomplish this. The long term goal of converting to long term annual donors can be achieved with patience and commitment.


Author Bio

Auctria is a Canadian software company dedicated to providing affordable tools to help groups of any size run successful fundraising auctions. For best practices for an online auction fundraiser here is how to get started and stay on track with an Auction timeline and checklist.

Twitter: @auctria
Facebook: @auctria
Pinterest: @auctria


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